Hair of the Dog, Part I

This essay is based on a true story, although I cannot guarantee that the details are accurate or in chronological order. I was very drunk while it was happening, and while writing it, and I’m also wasted right now. WKDC rules and an update on this year’s show will be found at the end of the piece.

In mid-February of 2013, I was a week late handing in an article about online dating––me, who had never even had a Facebook profile––and so naturally when my old friend from high school texted me to ask what I was up to that evening, I responded with, “Probably nothing.”

“Wanna come over for Westminster Dog Show drinking game?”

“When should I be there?”

As I walked down a blustery Union Avenue towards D’s apartment, I thought with no small degree of pride of the wonderful achievements in drinking games he and I had managed over the years. From Lifetime movies to the Academy Awards, while people watching at airports, attending garish weddings, or imbibing at hipster bars, we’d managed to find a way to compete our way to brown out through nearly every situation a twenty-something might encounter. Some of our more notable experiences included an ill-fated attempt to drink every time a contestant on The Bachelor cried (we were incapacitated eleven minutes into the show) and an ambitious scheme to create a set of rules that could be applied to any television show. ever. made. And of course, our piece de resistance: Intervention drinking game. After watching probably twenty episodes of A&E’s classic addiction horror show, we decided that the structure was so cathartically formulaic, the horrors so neatly and relentlessly recurring, that it begged for ritualized, boozy accompaniment. We purchased a domain name––it’s practically a miracle interventiondrinkinggame.com was still available––and crafted a list of the rules: one drink for an obligatory family gathering, for every overdose, for a parent who looks weepily into the camera and says that the addict was once “such a happy baby” (life lesson: pray for mediocre children––the adorable prodigies always get kidnapped or hooked on heroin.) We bumped up the ante to two shots for when an addict is allowed to get a fix before heading off to New Beginning Sunrises Center or wherever they’re going to dry out. Finally, to make things a little more interesting, we added a stipulation in which each individual “contestant” could make all the other players drink one time for anything he or she deemed absurd enough to be worthy. We dubbed this rule “Calvinball,” after the anarchic game played by Calvin and Hobbes. Addicts do some pretty bonkers stuff, so there was ample opportunity to take advantage of this rule. Constructing drinking games, after all, is a true art form, one that requires a sense of delicate balance: on the one hand, you must choose things to drink to that occur frequently enough that you can actually get drunk, but not things that happen so often that it isn’t a challenge trying to spot them.

When I arrived at D’s apartment, he was drinking cheap whisky from a fancy crystal tumbler; he poured me three-fingers’ worth as the broadcast came back from a commercial for WEN by Chaz Dean dog shampoo. We were midway through the Toy Group, the mostly-loathed category that encompasses canines that usually look like rodents or footstools (see: the Pekingese). With a few exceptions, these are the types of dogs you consider kicking on the street, or the ones that shiver constantly without teeny sweaters. D started outlining what he had accomplished the previous year with his roommate Kevin, whose boyfriend was also named Kevin.

“We thought, like, if the owner’s body is floppier than the dog’s… ”

I almost snorted my drink through my nose.

“… and one drink for anyone who’s actually well dressed.”
“How often does that actually happen?”

“Like twice in two nights. When the judge is overly interested in the dog’s anus.”

“That’s gotta be a technical thing.”

We both took a slug of our whiskies.

“Every time someone’s wearing orthotics?” I suggested.

“That’s way too intense.”

I’ll admit that during the brainstorming session, we weren’t exactly drinking according to our proposed rules. But that’s the nature of the drinking game, one played by serious imbibers, in any case: yes, you drink when a designated thing happens––like when the dog and the owner resemble one another, we decided––but really, you’re drinking for keeps, so you sip even when nothing of note is happening. Thus, by the time the surprisingly adorable Banana Joe, an Affenpinscher (also known as a “monkey terrier”) won the Toy group, which couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes after I arrived, my whisky was already depleted and I had moved on to a tall Narragansett. My sense of the “delicate” art of rule finding began to waver––were “smushed faces,” like the one little Banana Joe had, or powder puff tails too common, I wondered aloud? By the time the Non-Sporting Group–-a kind of catch-all category that includes everything from wee Boston Terriers to cinematically-beloved Dalmatians––was halfway through, I was halfway through my third Narragansett, and I had written a number of barely intelligible reminders for us on a piece of paper splattered with rapidly drying drops of beer:

How many sequins is too many sequins?

when the dog has more Facebook friends than you

Fifi the Doberman

CANKLES????

As the first night of competition wrapped up, we had twenty potential rules, with four that seemed so good they would almost certainly make the final cut (file “handler tattoos” here.) The panel of commentators, as unintentionally hilarious as Christopher Guest’s trio in Best in Show were intentionally so, began to talk about the usual post-game ritual for the show’s overall winner. “Best in Show always goes out for a nice steak after the big win,” one said.

“Oh. My. God. How cool it would be to go eat steak with that dog? Like, does someone cut it up with a fork and knife?”

“You should totally go.”

Through one blurry eye, I rapidly typed an email to one David Frei, who was listed as the press contact on the website (I later realized this guy was also the announcer, whose voice had become, according to the New York Times, “as familiar as a woof.”) “Thanks so much, and I hope you’re enjoying this likely stressful but exciting few days!!!” (I always got a little loose with the punctuation when drunk.) D and I both agreed I should just show up at the Garden the following evening and talk my way into the press room, but I was far too hung over to make it to midtown when the time came.

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